Shorewood approves social host ordinance

Shorewood has approved an ordinance to penalize those who openly know of underage drinking parties.

The Social Host Ordinance, as it’s most often termed, was approved on a 3-2 vote, and was crafted in cooperation with Tonka Cares and South Lake Minnetonka Police Department. The ordinance is designed to penalize those who know of an underage drinking party. The ordinance defines the penalty for violation a misdemeanor.

“It’s imperative we take this seriously and work with the school district and other communities to say that providing alcohol to minors is not acceptable,” said Shorewood mayor Chris Lizée.

First discussed in August by the city council, the ordinance is really designed for the age group of those just older than the legal drinking age that are able to buy alcohol and provide a place to facilitate an underage drinking party.

Though, the whole council agreed underage drinking is not acceptable, not all agreed this would be the solution.

“Having the opportunity to support the police department and the school district I think those things are very good things, and I want to do that,” said council member Deb Siakel. “Yet, I think there is another side to the question.”

Questioning the misdemeanor offense scofflaws may face, Siakel said she thinks it might be too harsh.

“I just don’t want to be overly punitive with it, and that’s what I’m concerned about,” Siakel said.

City attorney Tim Keane said a court would define the penalty if the person is convicted, and it would be up to the prosecutor to seek a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor or felony determination.

Council member Dick Woodruff, who has opposed the ordinance since the beginning said, “this law is full of holes.”

The two had concerns on not only how it would be enforced (conviction rate), but also who would actually be in violation. They worried if someone is sleeping upstairs for instance and doesn’t know about a party, would they be in violation? And though the law is designed to penalize those who openly know about an underage drinking party, council member Scott Zerby says responsibility ultimately falls on the owner of the residence.

“I think what happens under your roof is your responsibility whether you’re sleeping or not,” Zerby said.

The ordinance does not penalize those who don’t know of the party.

All about partnerships

The ordinance was drafted to resemble closely Minnetonka’s ordinance because of an attempt to avoid confusion across the cities in the school district.

Minnetonka School District’s Tonka Cares, a community coalition to reduce the use of illegal substances of the youth in the Minnetonka School District, supported that concept.

Director of Tonka Cares, Imogen Davis, says this will be another way to reinforce underage drinking is not acceptable.

“It gives us a way beyond just saying don’t do this because it’s not safe, but there are also some potential legal consequences,” Davis said. “We know most adults in our community don’t condone underage drinking and how our municipal representatives make that stand clear is by passing these ordinances and to see if other cities follow suit to make it more consistent.”

Davis says since the primary source of alcohol for high school students is in the home, this will hopefully reinforce to parents that it isn’t acceptable.

“It’s a slow process, but changing the community’s sense that this is inevitable behavior and tolerance for it,” Davis said. “It adds a piece of the puzzle that no it’s not inevitable and no we don’t tolerate it.”

Making it uniform

SLMPD Chief Bryan Litsey said it’s imperative to have the ordinance be the same in all the communities that serve the district to address expectations.

Since 2007, 83 cities and 19 counties have passed a social host ordinance. In the SLMPD jurisdiction since 2001, 63 citations for ages 18-20 and 35 for 18 and younger have been written, which is why Litsey says there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Litsey also says underage drinking parties lead to other unlawful behavior such as theft, drunk driving and illicit sexual activity.

The ordinance was first presented to the South Lake cities in 2009, but didn’t get anywhere due to concerns over enforcement and who would be held responsible.

The four other South Lake cities will be revisiting the issue now that Shorewood has approved the ordinance first.